Brexit fallout, an Ofsted report and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|July 1st 2016

Another mixed bag from the wonderful world of family law this week:

If you’re turning here to get away from the Brexit vote and its fallout, then I’m afraid I must disappoint. Family law, it seems, may not be exempt from possible changes resulting from the vote, although family lawyers are just as unsure of the actual implications of Brexit as everyone else.

The Chair of the association of family lawyers Resolution, Nigel Shepherd, said:

“We won’t know yet what withdrawal from the EU will mean for measures like Brussels IIa, which provides for uniform jurisdictional rules for divorce proceedings; or maintenance arrangements, which are currently regulated throughout the European Union. It’s unlikely that the implications for family law will be a priority for the government, and it’s a distinct possibility that any currently planned or envisaged reforms to family law will be put on hold.”

No, somehow I don’t think family law is going to be a priority for some time to come…

According to the NSPCC’s annual overview of child abuse and protection data, child cruelty and neglect cases recorded by police are at their highest level in 10 years, having risen by 75 per cent in that time. There were 8,506 child cruelty and neglect offences recorded by police in England in 2014-15, compared with 4,855 in 2005-06. The NSPCC says that greater public awareness and improvements in how police record offences could be factors behind the rise.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, commented:

“This rise in reported neglect is concerning and I will be investigating the reasons behind it in the coming months. Children who have been abused or neglected are often deeply traumatised and this can have a lasting and damaging effect into adulthood if they don’t get the right kind of mental health support needed to start rebuilding their lives.”

Quite.

In the latest annual Ofsted social care report more than a quarter of councils were judged “inadequate” by inspectors, with three-quarters in total rated as less than “good”. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw described the findings as unacceptable, saying that the child protection system was permeated by “widespread levels of mediocre provision”, with too many children “not receiving the services they deserve.” Wilshaw’s comments have been criticised by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) as “a partial and excessively negative story that destabilises the very services it seeks to improve”.

Dave Hill, president of the ADCS, said:

“That a quarter of the local authorities inspected so far are deemed to be inadequate is concerning, but this highlights the challenging times we are in: funds are reducing, particularly in terms of early help services, demand for help and support is increasing as is public scrutiny.”

I think he may have a point.

A judge has dismissed an attempt to replace a children’s guardian. In QS v RS & Another, an international adoption case, the mother applied to have the court-appointed children’s guardian dismissed for bias. The guardian filed a position statement with the court, which the mother alleged set out a “definitive view” on the case before the guardian had seen or heard all the relevant evidence. Mr Justice MacDonald, however, held that the mother’s allegation of bias as a ground for terminating the appointment of the guardian was misconceived. He said:

“The question of apparent bias falls to be considered in the context of the conduct of a person or persons occupying a judicial or quasi-judicial role. The role of the children’s guardian is not a judicial or quasi-judicial role. Whilst he is under a statutory duty to advise the court he is not the decision maker in these proceedings. In the circumstances, it is inappropriate for the mother to seek to approach actions of the children’s guardian in the same way as one would approach a person performing a normal judicial role or quasi-judicial role.”

The mother’s application was therefore dismissed. An interesting case.

And finally, a story that warmed the heart, even if the actions of the heroine are not to be recommended. A teenaged girl from Jharkhand in eastern India climbed a 150-foot electricity pylon to demand that her parents allow her to marry her boyfriend, and only came down when they agreed. Ah, the lengths that people will go to for love.

Oh, and before I go I should mention the report in a certain national newspaper that the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has suggested that family court hearings could take place in pubs. Apparently. So, I’m off to the Dog and Duck for a quick pint, a packet of pork scratchings… and a divorce.

Have a good weekend.

Image by Guy Sie via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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